The Ongoing fight for Puerto Rico’s public schools
The battle over the school closings in Puerto Rico is not over. In January Julia Keleher was confirmed as Secretary of Education in Puerto Rico, and in May she announced the decision to close 179 schools as part of her plan to decrease government spending. Puerto Rican parents, students, and even government officials were not pleased with the proposal, as it seemed to have overlooked the situations of the families, students, and teachers who would be affected.
Since the announcement of the list of schools to be closed was released, people have been fighting to get their schools off the list. Some success stories have come to light. The Department of Education has been able to negotiate to keep 12 schools, originally on the list for closure, open. Government officials are hoping to find a way to get more schools off the list. Representative Jorge Navarro, Senator Henry Neumann and Aguas Buenas’ Mayor Javier García have arranged with the governor to schedule a meeting with Keleher. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the possible reopening of two schools in Aguas Buenas.
The officials from Aguas Buenas believe that the schools that have been allowed to remain open have been won through the political might of leaders from the districts. For example: the Inés Encarnación school in Fajardo, is in the representative district of the House speaker Carlos ‘Johnny’ Méndez, and was taken off the list. They are hoping to represent a united front for their district and flex their political muscle to protect their district’s schools.
However, they may not find success. Keleher recently met with governor Ricardo Rosselló and stated afterwards that the current list of 167 schools was final and that it was not up for reconsideration. Keleher made this statement on June 26, just hours before she and Rosselló were bound for departure to Washington DC where they met with US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ policies and ideas on education have been met with serious criticism from teachers and students alike in the US, and is seen by many as being bad for education. However, the statements given by Rosselló and Keleher following meeting with DeVos are positive. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the progress that has been made thus far in changing the Puerto Rican school system, and to ask for the support of the office of the Secretary of Education in moving forward. Keleher requested management support from the federal office for handling federal grants. DeVos did not give a firm yes, but agreed to evaluate the request. Keleher also further pressed Secretary Devos to support a previous request to identify support for Title I and Special Education programs and help with the process to procure these resources. Of the meeting Keleher stated, “I am very happy for the opportunity to meet the Secretary of Education DeVos. Grateful for the opportunity to share our vision for education in Puerto Rico and excited about their interest and openness to collaborate so that the Island can develop innovative programs.”
Ricardo Rosselló also met with the Executive Director of Teach for America, Adele Fabrikant while in Washington. Teach for America is a non-profit organization that aims to end educational disparities by sending young teachers into areas struggling with poverty. As of yet, no official statement has been made about what transpired in their meeting. If Rosselló’s meeting aimed at paving the way for a partnership between Teach for America and Puerto Rican Public Schools it is likely that he will face a backlash from teacher’s unions who are already fearful of salary freezes and contract non-renewals for local teachers.
On all fronts, education in Puerto Rico is a hotbed of activity as of late. In Autumn when the school closings are confirmed and put in place, and the schools left must open to a new day, we will see how the changes play out.